I’m coming to the end of my time here in Malaysia, and I’m looking forward to getting ‘home’ – home being such a variable concept right now that it belongs in inverted commas.
Having said that, even if the bricks and mortar and the familiar bits and pieces are missing for the moment, there are other things I look forward to – seeing Rigby again and the joy in his eyes when he beholds me; the small family I have left to me, more meaningful now than ever before; and my friends, and familiar ways and accents, the city of Melbourne, my bars, good coffee, trams, the footy, and the weather. And, I guess, to return to sort things out.
This last week has been a mixture of anticipating that, of working and keeping myself separate.
Monday and Tuesday I was back working again. Not necessarily suit and tie, more pants and shirt, but it was still the most formal I’ve been for a while (outside of funerals). I spent the two days pretty intensively interviewing people and making notes in the office. I’ve spent the rest of the week turning my notes into a report, with another short visit to the office.
Most nights I’ve tried to make myself scarce. I’m staying with Whisky, as I have every other visit. Every other time he’s been some variation of single, and so I’ve been welcomed warmly and we’d take the opportunity to carouse for days on end. This time he has a girl he’s very tight with, who lives in the same building. I’ve been welcomed just as warmly as ever, but have come second to her. That’s fair enough, though a little uncomfortable. I feel the unwelcome presence sometimes, and have either taken myself off, or been asked to. And so I’ve gone out alone most nights lately to grab a bite and to keep me occupied. It’s fortunate that I’m so accustomed to solo travel and enjoy my own company, but the timing hasn’t been great.
Whisky flew out to Madrid last night, and so I promised to get out of their collective hair altogether on Thursday night. I’m lucky to have a good friend who was able to help out. She suggested that I spend the night at her hotel to do some quality testing. Why not? And so Thursday afternoon I travelled across town to book into a hotel nearby Chow Kit.
It was a rainy afternoon. I went walking after checking in, camera in hand, feeling for once like a tourist. It was a refreshing change. I walked up and down, going up streets and then back again, through smelly laneways and obscure looking arcades that turn into markets. It was fine.
Chow Kit seems a predominantly Indian neighbourhood, though I gather many are Muslim – it certainly was a focus of the current Hari Raya celebrations. The main streets were lined by stalls that closed in the sidewalk like a tunnel. The stalls sold all manner of things, from cheap trinkets to the usual rip-off cases and clothes, mobile phones, shoes, DVD‘s – though these mainly Bollywood and local stuff. It was not an area geared to western tourism, and so did not market to them. And I saw no other westerners there.
As you might imagine it was busy with people, women in sari’s shopping, shopkeepers for once mutely keeping their mouths shut, and on the road beyond in the rain cars and busses and taxis and two-stroke motorbikes went along.
In the heaviest of rain, I found myself in an imperfectly covered food market. It was marvellous. Water dripped from holed and sagging tarps. Underfoot the ground was merely wet, or slushy from the passage of feet. Surrounding me were shoppers pausing at different stalls to peruse the produce on display – fantastically coloured fruits, some I had never seen before, and vegetables and spices and the odd stall touting hot food – samosas or freshly fried pastries, and the usual selection of cold sweets, sticky and colourful. I took shot after shot wandering up and down the place, the only white face in the joint.
On the way out I bought myself a murtabak for a late lunch and headed back towards the hotel in the drizzle. There in the virtual backyard of the hotel, I found another fantastic sight. In the intersection of a few secondary roads was a clearing with a few large, knotted, sinuous trees like you see often in Asia. The clearing was chocka with cars in various states of repair, and a cloth covered area with car parts. Around the cars worked a bevy of skinny, dark skinned, smiling men, their hands and clothes dark with grease. Underfoot the road was greasy with years of caked on oil. In between the odd skinny dog, not unlike the pariah dogs of India, wandered around. And in the distance in the clouds and through the trees were the twin towers of KLCC, shining brightly in the dim afternoon light as if encrusted with thousands of diamantines, and strangely beautiful.
Here I had come across the regional car repair hub, open to the air, the elements, and anyone who cares to wander through. For me it was another example of the great diversity of sights in Asia. Anything is possible.
Near dinner time I ended up in the hotel bar – well, I was here to check the facilities. As I expected it was near empty. Checking in earlier and walking through the hotel I had thought most of the guests Arab, here for Ramadan perhaps, or else Indian. I didn’t expect the local pub to be busy, and it wasn’t.
Still and all I stopped for a beer the gracious bartender was happy to pour me. I sat in the faux English pub and watched a Korean music program on the big screen. Watching foreign TV is often a fascinating experience, and pretty educational. There’s no doubt we of the west have a narrow view of the world, and it sometimes comes as a shock to find those dusky foreigners have a culture we have nothing to do with. That’s a good reason to travel right there.
I watched. not so enthralled by the musical content, but fascinated by the differences. Much was familiar of course, the good looking hosts with fashionably/weirdly coiffed hair, gabbling on happily but in a language I couldn’t comprehend. The acts themselves were different, what I saw anyway. I only saw one act who performed their own instruments. The rest were very pretty boy and girl bands. The boy bands seemed huge – up to about 15 members, all under 20, all with haircuts out of the Beatles songbook, all good – if wet – looking, and all with a variety of moves I’m sure send the Korean girls into raptures.
The girl bands were smaller, but just as pretty. I’ve never been there, but my observation is that Koreans are the most attractive of the Asian peoples, which is saying a lot. I was sipping on my beer when a group typical of this ilk came on. All the girls wore short shorts and tops that more often than not exposed flat midriffs. They had lovely hair and big smiles and long legs and all the other moves. A less virtuous man than I might have had impure thoughts watching as they performed their song (Mister Bang Bang, no less).
It was at about this moment I was asked how I was by the staff there. Without saying a word I simply looked back at the screen – which they were viewing with as much fascination as I was – and they broke into happy giggles.
Not much more to report than that. I’m back in Bangsar, about to watch some footy, later to catch up with Donna, visiting here on the way to Thailand. Fly home Monday night.